Costa Rica '13

Day 1: Arrivals

A lovely sight greeted us as we landed in San Jose this Christmas day.

After checking into our hotel, we stepped into the central square of the city and paid our respects at the beautiful Catedral Metropolitana.

We explored other parts of the Parque Central, making stops at photo opps including the Teatro Nacional.

We soon settled in for dinner at Tierra Nuestra, which afforded us a nice introduction to traditional Costa Rican food.

We're looking forward to getting to know the town better soon!

Day 2: Turrialba

We woke bright and early this morning, looking forward to a day of whitewater rafting. Coffee plantations, sugarcane factories, and volcanoes lay on the way to Turrialba Valley.

We stopped for breakfast about an hour into our journey at the charming Bocadito del Cielo, enjoying typical Costa Rican gallo pinto (rice and beans) and chocolate (rich hot chocolate) for our desayuno (breakfast). But worth drinking in as much as the Central American coffee were the views that surrounded the roadside restaurant.

We reached Pejibaye River, and after a brief tutorial on paddle strokes, hit the water! The experience was indescribable as stunning greenery surrounded us on all sides while we glided (and sometimes moved less smoothly) through the cool rapids. 

At the end of a long and lovely day of winding through the river, we arrived on shore exhausted and famished. What awaited us after we changed out of our soggy clothing was our raft, flipped over, transformed into a formal dining table, with a colorful and nutritious meal spread across it!

There could be no more welcome sight in that moment, and Priya and I promptly filled up on the lavish spread and then lazed amid the suddenly comfortable rocks.

Day 3: San Jose

We spent today exploring sunny San Jose. We started at Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, a fortress turned museum which holds artifacts related to Costa Rica's geological, archaeological, religious, and modern history.

We then took a leisurely fresh juice and lunch break in the Cafe Teatro, a truly scrumptious spot to snack near Plaza de la Cultura. 

Next, we checked out the inside of the theater, a delightful example of richly ornate architecture.

In the afternoon, Mama checked out the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) as the rest of us marched to Edificio Correos (the postal center of San Jose) so I could search for stamps for the postcards I had just purchased.

I filled these out upon returning to our hotel in the evening, and sent them out after dinner.


Tomorrow, it's off to Tortuego we go!

Day 4: Tortuguero

We awoke dark and early this morning, getting up at 4:00 AM to leave for Tortuguero, a village situated on a sand bar island on the eastern coast of Costa Rica.

Our mode of transportation was this small chartered plane that seated 12 people and offered beautiful views of the incredible place we were approaching.

We touched down smoothly and made our way by boat to the cozy Tortuga Lodge, a 50-acre reserve bustling with biodiversity where we were served a lovely family-style Costa Rican breakfast before we relaxed in the nearby hammocks while waiting for our rooms.

Around noontime, we embarked on an afternoon boat tour of the lagoon and its various canals. We spotted several species of birds and other reptiles, and some of our most memorable moments came looking up at the canopy at spider monkeys leaping from branch to branch, and keeping an ear out for howler monkeys throughout. 

It was amazing to share with our boat-mates and those passing by on other motorboats and kayaks the sheer rapture of being in nature like this, focusing all of our attention on the movements of the creatures around us. This sharp attention to surroundings is a core tenet of meditation, and it made for a rewarding three hours to be so keenly aware of where we were and what we were looking at. 

We settled in for a delicious dinner after our tour, and are about to tuck ourselves in for an early night, before another day of adventure tomorrow!

Day 5: Santa Elena

We were out the door and in our kayaks at 6 this morning, setting out on a tour similar to yesterday’s of the lagoon, but this time in kayaks. The peace afforded us by the morning and our lack of a motor was very powerful, and could be temporarily disturbed only by a few sightings of caimans, which are close relatives of alligators.

After two hours of rowing and wildlife-spotting, we cast off our wet clothes and squeezed into a small plane for four people. The ride back to San Jose was delightful, with banana and pineapple plantations underway, and clouds cuddling with our aircraft.

Right after touching down at the small airport in Costa Rica's capital, we piled into a van that would take us to Monteverde, home to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. But not before a quick stop on the way! We spied Playa Doña Ana en route, and enjoyed lunch on the beach.

Upon arriving at our hotel, Priya and I deposited our things and went in search of the gym at El Establo, which has clusters of rooms scattered along a one-kilometer uphill path on a steep hill. It was quite the climb, and we finally arrived at the oasis of an inviting complex complete with cafe, swimming pool, and well-equipped gym. We had a stunning view of the sunset as I worked out and Priya did schoolwork, satisfied with our afternoontime adventure.

In the evening, we stepped into the town of Santa Elena searching for souvenirs and a place to eat. We came across Treehouse Restaurant & Cafe, which is in the "World's Top 10 Bizarre Restaurants"-- this eating joint is built around an ancient tree, so the whole restaurant is essentially a large treehouse!

We had a lovely meal there, and have now eaten breakfast on the Atlantic coast, lunch on the Pacific, and dinner on the continental divide -- what a day!

Day 6: Monteverde

We started this morning at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve -- one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Costa Rica. There, our guide Oscar regaled us with a slew of fun facts about micro-orchids, mini-avocados, and more.

We had to leave the tour early, however, and be on our way to Mt. Arenal, an active volcano in northern Costa Rica! Our journey was  comprised of a car ride, a boat ride, and another car ride to our hotel. This boat ride was the highlight of our day, an hour spent speeding through a 360-degree view of the most idyllic and fluffy-looking scenery imaginable. No picture could capture the bright beauty of the ride, though Priya took a number of stunning panoramas of the scene.

After our triple-legged journey, we arrived at Arenal Springs Hotel, and got to work relaxing before enjoying the hot springs and thermal pools in the evening.

Priya and I are comfortable in our cozy little cottage, and just enjoyed a Spanish-practicing sister dinner together, for a great night!

Day 7: Arenal 

We started today with a hike in Volcán Arenal National Park, walking 5 kilometers over ash that was spewed by the still-active volcano in 1968 and 1992. A rewarding view awaited us at the end of our trek, and exciting wildlife greeted us at various points on our journey.

Ready to reward ourselves after the not unsubstantial distance we had covered, we next headed into the town of La Fortuna and settled for lunch at Las Brasitas, a nice Latin American fusion restaurant where we met a wonderfully warm waiter named Juan Carlos who had nicknamed me "mala" (the mischievous one) just minutes after making my acquaintance.

Satisfied after our meal, we took an arduous post-prandial stroll down 560 steep steps to Catarata Fortuna, a 75-meter waterfall located close to the town. The view was a spectacular one, worth the most strenuous 1.2 kilometers we've ever climbed!

In the early evening, we ventured back into La Fortuna for some brief souvenir browsing before heading back to our hotel.

Priya and I just enjoyed a quick dip in the pool and we are all looking forward to ringing in 2014!

Day 8: Osa Peninsula

We woke up this morning to our outdoor bathtub and the chirping of birds and insects outside our window at Nayara Hotel near Volcán Arenal.

After breakfast, we spent most of our day on the journey to Osa Peninsula, which is located at the southwest tip of the country and home to at least half of all species living in Costa Rica. 

We traveled for 3 hours by car, 45 minutes by plane, 15 minutes by boat, and 10 minutes on foot to Paloma Lodge, where Priya and I have the best window in the world.

We just finished dinner with the wonderfully warm and large-hearted Marxe family, meeting Hope, Isabelle, Emme, Austin, Diane, and Unik and enjoying a joyful conversation about travel, school, and our times in Costa Rica. A lovely end to the first day of our year!

Day 9: Isla del Caño

Today was our day of water! We started off the morning zooming  to Caño Island in a motorboat. About 30 minutes into our 45-minute ride, I commented to Mama, "I wish we'd seen a dolphin." Just then, our tour guide exclaimed, "¡delfines!"  and asked the captain to follow the four fins he had spotted in the distance. Moments later, our boat was surrounded by a group of between 30 and 50 false killer whales, individuals from the third-largest  member of the dolphin family. The playful creatures surrounded our boat on all sides as we sped toward the island, cameras in hand.

Once at the island, we started snorkeling. I hadn't been in several years, and the experience was as awe-inspiring and breathtaking as I remember it seeming to my 9-year-old self. Today, we managed to spot the multicolored Parrotfish, royal blue Giant Damselfish, adorable Moorish Idol, and a school of about 500 Green Jacks, moving together to impersonate a much bigger animal and avoid predators. Their hues and moves were beautiful.

After about an hour in the water, we moved to Playa San Josecito, my new favorite beach! We had a lovely picnic here and enjoyed some waves before heading back to La Paloma Lodge.

Tired after a morning of sun and sand, Priya and I got to work relaxing by the pool, soon joined by our good friends Leila (7 years) and Emme (3 years).

Refreshed, we washed up for dinner, where we sat with Elizabeth and Brett, a lovely couple from Chicago enjoying their honeymoon on Osa Peninsula. We really enjoyed talking to them over dinner, and I now sit typing this post, only briefly interrupted a second ago by an hourglass tree frog the size of a paperclip hopping onto the edge of my computer monitor. Another night in Costa Rica!

Day 10: El Rio Sierpe

Our last full day in Costa Rica was a hectic one indeed! We started off the morning at 6:00, embarking on a motorboat tour of the mangroves along the Sierpe River. We “mangrovers” were able to spot a group of white-faced monkeys, a couple of crocodiles, a handful of baselisks, a pair of nesting macaws, and a boa constrictor on our trip, that was seven hours total in length.

This left plenty of time for activities the rest of the day! After a light lunch, Priya and I trekked down through the forest to the hotel’s beach, where we found a large troupe of white-faced monkeys, playing a game with one of the families’ pet dog! Priya fervently took photographs as I enjoyed the sand.

We raced up from the beach back to our room to convene for afternoon horseback riding on the beach. The four of us galloped into the sunset, my horse Suaso enamored of the waves and constantly hungry (much like myself).

We got back from our equine adventures just in time for the first course of our meal before we left for a nighttime tour with Tracy, the Bug Lady of Osa. This incredible woman and her husband showed us all sorts of nighttime creatures in the forest that we never would have come close to noticing otherwise, such as the tailless -- scorpion, trap door spiders, and the famous red-eyed tree frog. Her anecdotes about the natural world along the way were eye-opening and awe-inspiring, and we couldn’t look at the forest the same way as we walked back to the hotel for dinner.

We just got back after another wonderful meal at La Paloma Lodge, our warm home for the past few days.

Day 11: Goodbyes

We woke up this morning to a monkey that had entered our room on the prowl for a snack. The little guy slipped into the room through the ceiling rafters, darted to a bag of granola lying on our coffee table, snatched it up, and had disappeared before we could register its presence (and I could open up the plastic bag of cereal for him).

Over breakfast, our friends at the hotel spotted a sloth crawling by on a nearby tree, and Priya again managed to snap a sleuthful shot through a telescope!

After a morning of taking in our surroundings (including a pair of endangered scarlet macaws flying across the sky) one last time, we hopped on a boat  that would take us to our plane across the bay.

Our 45-minute flight to San Jose was scenic as ever, and helped us trace much of the Pacific coast of the country as we sped along.

We now sit at the airport in San Jose, hardly feeling ready to leave behind the treasures of this country, but feeling as "pura vida" as ever!

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